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5 financial strategies to help businesses achieve long-term success

Business leaders are contending with a host of challenges in today’s dynamic economic environment. The labor market remains tight. Interest rates are staying high longer than many anticipated. Fast evolving technologies are changing customer and employee expectations and putting pressure on companies to innovate quickly.

Maintaining a focus on growth and profitability requires juggling numerous responsibilities and making wise decisions.

The market leaders at Commerce Bank have experience navigating these challenges as they work side-by-side with decision makers daily in virtually every industry. Based on first-hand experiences with their clients, here are five strategies they recommend for setting up a business for long-term financial success.

1. Start with a talent strategy.

Long-term business success begins with having the right people on your team. Yet talent has been in short supply in recent years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate reached a two-year high in February, but was still just 3.9%, and the economy added 275,000 jobs during the month. For context, when the unemployment rate dropped to 3.9% in April 2018, that was the first time it had dipped below 4% in 17 years.

“One thing that’s been a common theme for quite a while, regardless of a company’s size, is challenges with having enough staff,” said Shannon O’Doherty, CEO of the Oklahoma Market for Commerce Bank. “Across all industries, leaders have to do more with less while also needing to hire.”

A robust talent strategy doesn’t end with filling positions. It also includes structuring the business so its human capital can focus on innovation and strategic thinking rather than mundane tasks. O’Doherty used the finance department as an example. By working with a banking partner to automate manual processes such as writing checks and accepting payments, a business can free up employee time to work on the type of analysis that can drive the business forward, she said.

2. Cultivate a growth mindset.

With the right talent strategy in place, the next key to long-term business success is to focus on growth. Throughout the year, O’Doherty meets with her customers to maintain a pulse on what they are experiencing, reviewing their key metrics, and finding ways to help ease any pain points they may be experiencing as their businesses expand. She advises companies to continuously seek differentiators that set them apart from their competition and invest in innovation.

“You have to maintain a growth mindset to continuously evolve as a company,” she said. “If you’re not doing that, you can become stagnant and hinder your growth for the future.”

3. Get serious about managing cash flow.

Having a solid strategy for managing working capital is especially important given the significant increase in interest rates over the past two years.

According to Todd Adler, Commerce Bank’s Director of Treasury Management, the first piece of this strategy begins with understanding the cash conversion cycle of the business, from the moment a client places an order, to delivery of the product or service, and finally when the company receives payment. The other pieces of the equation are understanding the business’s inventory and procure to pay process, from procurement to issuing payment.

“Over the last two years, we have seen a dramatic change in the conversations we're having with customers about their long-term focus and immediate desire to automate and improve their processes to have a significant impact on their working capital position,” Adler said. “Those changes free up cash for them to more effectively run their business and reduce their total cost of working capital.”

“It’s less about what technology you use and more about the impact on your process,” he said. “How can you streamline the procure-to-pay and order-to-cash cycles, so you reduce manual tasks, and you have clear visibility into the entire flow of what’s taking place?”

Embracing automation to facilitate better workflow processes is one way to improve a company’s working capital position.

As companies continue to invest in their ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems, they want to leverage those systems as much as possible. Moving forward you will see more companies integrated with their banking providers to create a holistic view of cash flow throughout the business,” Adler said.

This allows leaders to track overall balance positions as well as their accounts payable and accounts receivable in real-time, in a single system for better visibility for decision making around working capital positions.

4. Strengthen fraud mitigation measures.

In the digital age, the threat of fraud looms large over businesses. According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers reported losing $10 billion to scams in 2023, a $1 billion increase over 2022. Businesses are far from immune, with fraudsters impersonating banks, government offices and other legitimate companies to trick employees into giving up sensitive information or incorrectly issuing payments.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of having fraud mitigation tools,” O’Doherty said. “Digital payments, enhanced security on check payments, PCI compliance and accounting automation all help reduce exposure. You can’t have enough fraud protection in this world we’re living in today.”

5. Make succession planning a priority.

CEOs, CFOs and other executive leaders who are on top of most areas of long-term financial planning can overlook preparing for their own personal succession planning. This requires planning for both a transfer of wealth and a change in management of the company, said Brian Watkins, President of St. Louis Commercial Banking for Commerce Bank. Commerce Trust, a division of Commerce Bank, works with its entrepreneurial clients to serve as a quarterback, coordinating the efforts of a business's banker, lawyer, tax advisor, financial planner, and business broker to ensure a robust estate plan is in place.

“We will coordinate with our business owners, create a team, and bring in their existing, trusted advisors to be prepared for that wealth transfer,” Watkins said. “We also touch base with them at least annually because the plan is always evolving.”

Business owners can further enhance their succession plans by creating an advisory board for the business, Watkins said. These boards don’t need voting or other decision-making authority but can still offer powerful advice and consultation.

“It’s hard to do that on your own if you’re an individual owner and you’re trying to decide who can run your company the best, especially if your children are involved,” he said. “An advisory board can help mentor those business owners and that can be done for a company of any size.”

No matter the challenges your business faces – and the questions that come with them – you don’t have to face them alone. At Commerce Bank, we’ve been helping businesses of all sizes find the solutions they need since 1865. Because nothing matters more to us than your success. Learn more at 

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